Western States Petroleum Association Launches Lawsuit Against ‘Defacto Moratorium’ On Fracking In CA

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By Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

October 8, 2021


As a massive oil spill kills fish and birds off the Orange County coast, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, today launched a lawsuit against what it called a “a defacto moratorium” on well stimulation (fracking) permits in California by the Gavin Newsom Administration.

Under intense pressure from environmental justice advocates that have pushed for a ban on fracking for the last 10 years, the Newsom administration this year began to deny fracking permits while continuing to issue hundreds of other oil production well permits employing other methods of extraction. Fracking only amounts to 2 percent of oil production in California, according to the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, CalGEM.

The agency has approved 12 fracking permits to date, compared with 48 fracking permits last year to date, a 75 percent decrease from 2020, according to the Newsomwellwatch.com website operated by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance. 

But even though fracking permits are such a small percentage of oil drilling permits in California, Big Oil seeks to continue fracking oil wells in Kern County and elsewhere.

WSPA filed the lawsuit in the Superior Court of Kern County, asking the court to rule that the California Geologic Energy Management Division’s (CalGEM) “de facto moratorium on Well Stimulation Treatment (WST) permits is illegal and void and should be enjoined.”

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President and CEO of WSPA and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, released a statement explaining why the association had filed the lawsuit:

“WSPA and its members recognize the importance of the need to address environmental issues that impact global climate change and are leading the way through investments and innovation in addressing this challenge.  We must get this right. Our industry is committed to climate solutions and an equitable energy future that includes more renewable and sustainable energy sources, and for the foreseeable future based on multiple scientific studies, reliable fossil fuels.

“Unfortunately, the State of California continues to take arbitrary actions that deliver little positive benefits for our fight against climate change but imposes big impacts on Californians – to our finances, to our freedoms, essentially to how we live and work every day.

“Real solutions do not come through arbitrary bans, mandates, and the whim of elected leaders.  And, it should not take legal action for the state to do its statutory work and ensure that we have stable, affordable, and safe domestic sources of energy that we need for California’s families and businesses. WSPA and its members are willing to stand up for people and our industry when real progress on the climate and our economy is threatened.

“Today, on behalf of the people who work in and whose jobs are supported by the oil industry in California, and to protect domestic production of safe, affordable, and reliable energy, WSPA filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Kern County asking the court to rule that California Geologic Energy Management Division’s (CalGEM) de facto moratorium on Well Stimulation Treatment (WST) permits is illegal and void and should be enjoined.

“In the past several months, CalGEM has rejected numerous permits for reasons not supported by relevant technical evidence or deficiencies. Rather, CalGEM’s rejections are based on arbitrary assertions that the production and combustion of fossil fuels in general—not well stimulation activities specifically—cause greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change and are therefore unacceptable “as a matter of conscience” rather than science.

“CalGEM’s decision to deny future permits for WST operations ignores the law and is contrary to all scientific studies and evaluations that have been conducted by CalGEM itself as well as by other independent scientific bodies. Banning WST operations in California will only serve to constrain domestic oil production, resulting in the need to import more oil from foreign sources. Increased imports of foreign oil will also increase global greenhouse gas emissions, further contributing to global warming, contrary to the very goals CalGEM seeks to promote.

“While this legal action moves forward, WSPA and its members will continue its work to deliver needed energy while tackling climate challenges that Californians face every day.” 

The lawsuit was launched as the Newsom Administration continues to issue a plethora of onshore and offshore oil and gas permits in California: www.dailykos.com/…

Governor Newsom’s oil regulators have approved 9,728 oil drilling permits since he assumed office in 2019, according to a new analysis of permits approved through October 1, 2021 and posted at www.NewsomWellWatch.org by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance. The groups said Newsom “should immediately cease approval of more oil permits to avoid hitting the 10,000 mark.”

CalGEM has approved a total of 1,577 total permits in the first nine months of 2021, a 53% change from the number of permits issued in 2020. The agency approved 516 new well permits and 1,061 oil well rework permits in the first six months of this year.    

The agency has issued a total of 150 reported permits issued for offshore wells since January 1, 2019 as of October 1, according to the two groups. Five of these permits were for new drilling and the remaining 145 for reworks (including sidetracks and deepening operations).  

“Half of the total were issued for idle wells that should be plugged and properly abandoned to reduce the risk of blowouts, leaks, and other accidents. Over the first three quarters of 2021 there have been 17 offshore permits issued,” the groups stated.  

While WSPA has launched a lawsuit against the Newsom Administration for denying a number of fracking permits this year, opponents of oil drilling and supporters of environmental justice are saying Newsom should talk a more aggressive approach to stopping oil drilling in California.

“Governor Newsom needs to prioritize ending oil drilling now rather than just talking about it,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog. “His Administration is 280 days late on a rule to end oil drilling near communities and continues to approve offshore oil permits despite railing against offshore oil drilling.”

In contrast with the oil industry’s contention that stopping oil drilling will throw many oil workers out of work, Tucker noted that “oil workers will have plenty of work plugging thousands of idle and marginally producing wells and restoring the environment for a long time to come.”

”Oil regulators are starting to do their job by denying fracking permits on the basis of protecting public health and the environment in advance of Newsom’s ban on fracking by 2024,” concluded Tucker.

Background: Big Oil exerts enormous influence over California regulators

Big Oil is the biggest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento — and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is the biggest and most powerful lobbying organization. Big Oil, along with corporate agribusiness, developers, big water agencies, timber companies, and other Big Money interests, has captured the regulatory apparatus in California.

Just four oil industry lobbyist employers alone — the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation — spent $10,192,047 lobbying the Governor’s Office, Legislature and regulatory agencies to advance Big Oil’s agenda in 2020, according to data posted on the California Secretary of State’s website by February 1, 2021.

The Western States Petroleum Association spent a total of $4,267,181, less than half of the $8.8 million that it spent in 2019.  

The San Ramon-based Chevron, a beneficiary of many new fracking permits this year, spent $4,091,501 in California 2020, less than the $5.9 million in spent in 2019.  

Another big spender and beneficiary of large numbers of new fracking permits this year, Aera Energy, spent a total of $795,099 on lobbying California officials in 2020.  

Aera Energy has close ties with the Governor’s Office. In November, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on how Governor Gavin Newsom didn’t follow his own COVID pandemic guidelines when he attended a birthday party for Jason Kinney, a close friend and advisor, at the French Laundry Restaurant in Napa. Kinney is a lobbyist for Axiom Advisors, who lobbies for Aera Energy and other energy corporations.

Jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, Aera produces nearly a quarter of California’s oil and gas production. Aera paid Axiom Advisors $200,000 during 2019 and 2020 for lobbying on oil and gas permitting issues and other matters, according to Donny Shaw and Eric Seidman in Sludge: Newsom Delivers for Energy Clients of Lobbyist He Celebrated at French Laundry: readsludge.com/…

Finally, the California Resources Corporation, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, spent $1,038,266 to influence state officials in 2020.  

Lobbying is just one of the seven methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 7 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups; (5) working in collaboration with media; (6) creating alliances with labor unions; and (7) contributing to non profit organizations.  

The oil industry exerts inordinate influence over the regulators by using a small fraction of the billions of dollars in profits it makes every year to lobby state officials and fund political campaigns.

For example, Big Oil spent an amazing $266 million influencing California politics from 2005 to 2014, according to an analysis of California Secretary of State data by StopFoolingCA.org, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to “mislead and confuse Californians.”

The industry spent $112 million of this money on lobbying and the other $154 million on political campaigns.

The inordinate influence by Big Oil on California politicians and regulators has resulted in widespread air, ground and water pollution with huge health impacts on mostly Black and Brown communities living near oil and gas wells.

Between 2008 and 2018 alone, oil and gas companies created a statewide total of over 1.3 trillion gallons of oil and gas wastewater in California, enough liquid to fill over 17.6 million household bathtubs, according to a report released by Earthworks, along with allies VISION California and Center for Biological Diversity.

Consumer Watchdog
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